The Walk to Bethlehem at Penticton’s St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church has become a cultural and historical tradition for thousands of people each Christmas.
On Saturday and Sunday (Dec. 5 and 6) the inside of the bright green tents now in place around the exterior of the century-old, stone structure will contain a unique glimpse into a time long ago.
As he has for almost every year since 2004, Pastor Colin Cross has worked with members of his congregation and others to create the spiritual journey of a lifetime.
Those who take the trek will have an opportunity to see people in period clothing making everything from candles, weaving cloth, and tending (real) farm animals.
They can also watch live performances, crafts for the children and an opportunity just to sit and enjoy the warmth of the season and a cup of hot chocolate and a bite to eat with others in the lower floor café.
There is even a chance for visitors to have a professional photograph taken in period costume for free.
“We do it, and this may sound cliché, but we do it as a gift to the community at this time of year,” said Cross, who first experienced a similar walk 20 years ago in Parksville on Vancouver Island. “The first time we did it here I have to say it exceeded our expectations and I think it exceeded their (those attending) expectations as well. This is the 10th year and it has very quickly established itself and become kind of an institution.
“I’ve talked to more than a few people with almost tears in their eyes who were just very moved and another comment I’ve often heard is from those who say Walk to Bethlehem is always the start of my Christmas; ‘once I go to Walk to Bethlehem I feel Christmas has begun for me.’”
With the walls of the tent on one side and stone on the other, combined with the warm, muted lighting the area around the church becomes another land and another era.
Cross added most people attending for the first time are really quite surprised at just how realistic the setting is.
“I mean a lot of church things are really cheesy but when all these elements come together, it really is quite effective,” he said. “People are very moved, it opens a window on something they hadn’t thought about.”
The pastor also stressed the weekend is not a campaign to convert the masses but simply an opportunity for families to have a little fun and enjoy a different element of the season.
He noted people who are sometimes suspicious or defensive when it comes to religion tend to relax their guard a bit more at this time of year.
“They’re willing to kind of experience what we are and what we do. Christmas is time to do something fun, and neat and meaningful,” said Cross. “Again, we’re not here to make war with Santa Claus and ‘Jesus is the reason for the season’ and aren’t we special because we understand that and other people don’t. We’re not into that it’s not a kind of us versus them, this is something to be shared by everyone, together.”
There are also a few new additions to this year’s program, including one for kids who will be given small boxes to collect 10 scrolls at different stations which when put together at home will tell the story of Christmas.
Saturday’s Walk to Bethlehem runs from 3 to 8 p.m. and on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. The church is located at 387 Martin St. (at Wade Avenue).